The Law Of LoveRev. Philip Miller | July 24, 2022
Selected highlights from this sermon
When Jesus speaks about what a life of virtue looks like in the Sermon on the Mount, the clearest example He gives us is what we call “The Golden Rule.”
Jesus, in Matthew 7:12, is the first person in world history to make love the central, unifying virtue. This is a watershed moment that continues to shape us today. As Pastor Miller says, “Not only does Jesus give us unparalleled moral clarity with His ethic of love, He also provides us an unprecedented power to live into that ethic.”
One of the foundational questions of moral philosophy down through the ages is, “What is a virtuous life?” What is a virtuous life? The ancient philosophers understood something that we tend to overlook, and that is that there is no flourishing in life without true virtue.
The Greeks: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the like; and later the Romans: Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, put forth what became know over time as the Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. It’s not important to remember all of these, but then they argued about whether there was one virtue that united all the other virtues, and they could never agree on what that is.
In another part of the world, the Jewish rabbis were holding that virtue consists of wisdom in keeping the law of God. They identified 613 commandments in the Old Testament by their reckoning, and said, “Just keep those, and you’ll be fine.”
That’s kind of a tall order to keep track of 613 priorities, and so then the rabbis got together and they tried to figure out if maybe there was a set of unifying virtues or commands that could explain all of the commands, and of course you have the Ten Commandments, and some will say, “Well, that’s it; it’s not going to get any better than ten, so keep the ten and keep them all.” Others argued that the great Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” that this was the great commandment that unified everything. Others argued that Leviticus 19:18 was the central command: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord,”
There’s a famous story. It may or may not be true (but it’s a good story, right?) of a non-Jewish man who promised to convert to Judaism if one of the rabbis could teach the entire Torah, the Law of God, to him while standing on one foot. Right? In other words, he had to do it fast because you can lose your balance. You can’t keep that up very long, so he had to do it quickly. Rabbi Shammai responded to this insolence by whacking the young man on the head with his walking stick. Rabbi Hillel, the Elder, answered him, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary. Now go study!” (chuckles) Which was, of course, a jab at Shammai for whacking the man on his head, but was also a profound bit of wisdom, wasn’t it?
I bring all of this up to simply point out that when Jesus speaks in the Sermon on the Mount to what a life of virtue looks like, He’s not doing so in a vacuum. He’s joining an ongoing conversation in His Greco-Roman and Jewish milieu. And the clearest example of this is in Jesus’ articulation of what we now call “The Golden Rule,” which we looked at last time, and we’re going to focus all of our attention on this morning, Matthew 7:12.
So grab your Bibles. That’s what we’re going to do this morning. Matthew 7:12. You’ll find it on page 812 in your pew Bible there. It’s just a short verse of brilliance. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
You’ll notice that what Jesus does here is He takes Rabbi Hillel’s famous statement that he made in the negative, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow,” and He flips it around and then He frames it in the positive. “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also unto them.” So Rabbi Hillel’s ethic was one of restraining harm. “Don’t do the bad things you don’t want people doing to you. Don’t do them to other people.” But Jesus’ ethic is one of loving service, right? “Whatever you wish others would do for you, you do that for them.”
Now, don’t miss this. Don’t miss this. Jesus is the first person in all of world history to make love the central, unifying virtue that sums up everything else. Jesus here is making love the ethical capstone, the defining feature of a virtuous life that will truly flourish in the world. This is a watershed moment. This is a philosophical breakthrough. It is a brilliant moral insight, and it is still shaping us today. In fact, if you, like most of our culture today, think of love as the highest virtue that everything else points to, you didn’t come up with that on your own. You got that from Jesus. You just may not know it, but that’s where it came from. It came from Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ Golden Rule, His ethic of love, has literally changed the world, and you’re looking right here at the original source material of where it all began, Matthew 7, verse 12, the Sermon on the Mount.
Now what I want to do this morning is show you just how brilliant and history-changing Jesus is, because not only in this passage is he going to give us unparalleled moral clarity with His ethic of love, He is also going to provide us with an unprecedented power to actually live into this ethic. And He’s going to tie the Sermon on the Mount together front-to-back with rhetorical genius as He packages everything as a whole.
So that’s what we’re going to do together this morning. We’re just going to look at all this stuff and we’re going to consider three things. We’re going to consider The Way of Love, The Life of the Spirit, and The Heart of Righteousness. That’s our plan for this morning: The Way of Love, The Life of the Spirit, and The Heart of Righteousness, as Jesus shows us a way to a virtuous life. That’s our plan.
As we jump in, would you bow your head? Let’s pray and ask the Lord to guide us and be our teacher.
Father, we need help this morning. Love is a great ideal, but it’s hard to live. Even the most loving of us find ourselves saying harsh words to the people we claim to love the most. We constantly let down people we promise to love faithfully. Teach us to love like you, to be faithful and true, to be selfless and sacrificing, and give us your heart this morning we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.
First of all, The Way of Love, The Way of Love.
Scholars of the Gospels, the New Testament biographies of Jesus, have long observed that Jesus’ virtue of love unfolds and deepens over the course of His teaching ministry. This passage we’re looking at right now in Matthew 7:12 is the earliest teaching of what we now call The Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Again, notice Jesus, He’s contrasting with Hillel’s ethic of restraining harm, and instead gives us an ethic of loving service for one another. It’s full of empathy, compassion, and grace for others. And Jesus said, “This is the Law and the Prophets.” That was their shorthand for their entire Old Testament, their Bible at that time. And Jesus was saying, “Everything in the Bible is ultimately about this. Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, that this virtue of loving service for others, that the whole Bible is aiming toward this end. This is its goal, its purpose. Fulfill this ethic of love and you fulfill it all.
Now, many years later, Jesus (Not many years, about two-and-a half, three years later) expands on this summary of the Law in Matthew 22. An expert in the Old Testament Law comes to Jesus and says, “Rabbi, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Do you see His question? Which commandment is greater than all the other commandments? Which commandment unites all the other commandments? Which virtue unites all the other virtues? This is the question. It’s a moral philosophy question.
Jesus answers. Matthew 22:37–40, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment...And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Again, the lawyer asked Him for one commandment, you notice, and Jesus gave Him two. “Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got, with every fiber of your being, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus unites the great Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4, “You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” and He unites it with Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
He says, “These are actually two sides of a single coin: Love God/Love Neighbor.” And notice here how the ethic has deepened. Instead of what we saw before, “Treat others the way I would want to be treated.” (That’s in Matthew 7:12) Now, here in Matthew 22, we have, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Well, how do you love yourself? Unless you have some deep psychological trauma that’s really messed you up (this happens) most of us, even without thinking, seek our own good, seek our own happiness, seek our own interests, don’t we? It’s our instinct, our habit, our constant pattern. We are obsessive about taking care of ourselves. We’re devoted to it. It’s an automatic reflex, and Jesus is saying, “Look, if you want to know the ethical center that undergirds all the Law and the Prophets (the entire Bible), here it is: “Love God with every fiber of your being, and love your neighbor as if they were yourself.” With the same love, the same affection, the same devotion and care, as if they were you. That’s how you’re to love them. At the very center: love God, love people. The center is love. Love God. Love people.
And just when we thought the ethical hill couldn’t get any steeper and impossible to climb, at the Last Supper, the night before Jesus was crucified, Jesus wrapped a towel around His waist and washed His own disciples’ feet. He took on the role of the lowest slave, and He said to them:
John 13:34–35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
And again, do you see how the virtue of love is unfolding? It’s deepening. We started out, “Treat others the way you wish they’d treat you,” which became, “Love others as you yourself love yourself” Right? Which has now turned into “Love one another, as I have loved you.”
How does Jesus love us, friends? Selflessly, sacrificially, servant-heartedly, with radical, self-donating compassion, and surrender. He gives and gives and gives Himself away. He’s the servant of all, His life in love laid down for us.
Although by rights He deserved to be in the form of God forever, He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped and held onto, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, and being born in the likeness of men. He was found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. “As I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Jesus, what’s the virtuous life? What’s the ethic that unites all the ethics? What’s the commandment that unites all the commandments? The ethic is a life of love like Jesus. That’s the ethical standard, a life of love like Jesus. Agape love, a love that gives itself away for the good of another, the divine love of God Himself, perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ, a love from beyond the world, the cross-shaped love of our Jesus, who died in our place and for our sake, bearing all our sin and shame and rose again to make us right with God forever, sons and daughters of the the king.
“Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” That is true virtue. That is the real ethical center. It is the new commandment that Jesus is here to give us. “Love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Now, it’s one thing for Jesus to give us this kind of unparalleled moral clarity with this ethic of love. It’s another thing entirely to also empower people to live into such an ethic, which leads us to our second point, The Life of the Spirit, The Life of the Spirit.
The timing of when Jesus rolls out this new commandment is vitally important. It is during the Last Supper, right? The Last Supper. It’s the night before He goes to the cross. And it is in the very same meal where He takes the bread and breaks it, and says, “This is my body which is broken for you.” It’s the same meal where He takes the cup and He says, “This is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” It’s the same night that Jesus said, “I have to go away, and you cannot come with me, but I will send the Holy Spirit to be your comforter, your advocate and your guide.”
In other words, this new commandment that Jesus gives us to love one another as He has loved us is not given in isolation. It is part of a constellation of a massive redemptive unveiling of interconnected things, the new commandment; and the new covenant; Christ crucified, raised, and ascended; and the sending of the Holy Spirit.
All of this is wrapped up together. Don’t miss this. The new commandment to live a life of love like Jesus is surrounded on every side by the new covenant inaugurating the work of Jesus Christ as He goes to the cross and the promised sending of the Holy Spirit who will come. This is the fulfillment of the great prophecy of old in Ezekiel 36:26–27. God promises there, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Friends, if we attempt to live a life of love like Jesus on our own, we are sunk. We are sunk. It is only through the redemption of Christ and the indwelling of His Spirit that we can even begin to follow Jesus in this way of love. We need new spirits. We need new hearts. We need new power.
So Jesus raises the standard of love, you see this, for all of His disciples. But we must love as He loves us. And then knowing we could never possibly live up to that standard, He goes to the cross and offers His own perfect righteousness in our place and for our sake, and then sends the Holy Spirit to dwell inside of us, to raise our dead hearts to life for obedience to Jesus Christ so that by following the Spirit we might learn to walk in love like Jesus walked.
Look at how this plays out. It’s all over the Bible, but let’s just look at one passage here, a couple passages.
Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 30 down to chapter 5, verse 2: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Okay pause for just a moment. How do you get the Holy Spirit? By trusting in Jesus Christ. He makes you alive. He sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in you. Okay, so in light of your past redemption, all that Christ has done for you, in light of your present indwelling of the Spirit who is alive in you, who has sealed you for the day of redemption, you will be redeemed in glory forever when you are with God. Right? So in light of your past redemption, your present indwelling, and your future glory, what does He say? “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (And here’s the ethics) Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (That’s the negative. Positive:) Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. (God has loved you to Himself in Christ, and now as beloved children imitate your Father.) And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
What was Jesus’ commandment again? “Love one another as I have loved you, you are to love one another.” What does Paul say? “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” It’s the same thing. It’s the same thing. He doesn’t say, “Now that you’re in Christ, try really, really hard. Work your tail off to try to be good and loving.” He doesn’t load us up with an ethical burden we cannot carry. He says, “No, in light of the redemption of Christ and the empowering, indwelling Spirit within you, and the glory that awaits you in redemption, the full redemption, don’t grieve the Spirit, but imitate God and walk in love as Christ loves us. Lean on the Spirit. Follow the Spirit into a life of love.
Galatians 5, verses 13 and 14: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Look at this) Through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Through love serve one another. The whole law is fulfilled in this one word. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Where did Paul get that? Where did he get that logic? Jesus! And where do we get the power to “through love serve one another” and thus fulfill the entire law?
Paul continues. Galatians 5:22-25: “But the fruit of the Spirit is… (What is it?) love...” Love heads the list. “...joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
The Spirit of God who dwells inside of you has made you alive in Jesus Christ. He has given you a new spirit, a new heart, a new power. Now that you are alive in Him, He says, “Keep in step with the Spirit. Don’t run ahead. Don’t lag behind. Just stay with Him. Let Him lead you. Let Him guide you. Let Him counsel you. Let Him advise you. Let Him shape you. Let Him mold you and change you, and He will show you the true freedom of a life of love serving one another,” which fulfills the entire law, because when it comes to the fruit of the Spirit, “against such things there is no law.” On the contrary when we “through love serve one another” in love it is what the law was after all along.
As Paul summarizes down below in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
“A new commandment I give you. Love one another; just as I have loved you, so you are also to love one another.”
Now, for the sake of time, we’re going to pass over another passage that we could look at. I’ll just give it to you for your future study, and that’s Romans 13:8–10, where you’ll see very similar logic at work, and where Paul summarizes it with this statement, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Love is the fulfilling of the law.
But we are going to look at one more passage which is in Romans 8:4. Romans 8:4. In the context Paul is describing how God sent Jesus as our sin bearer, “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Do you see what he’s saying here? He’s saying that when we walk in the Spirit and we follow the way of love that Jesus patterns for us, when we love others that way, that the righteous requirements of the Law are actually fulfilled in us. Isn’t this amazing? Because the Spirit of God, the Advocate that Jesus sent to us is fulfilling the work of the New Covenant in our lives. “I will put my Spirit within you, and I will cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” because the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is teaching us a life of love like Jesus, a life of love like Jesus. Jesus raises the bar, and commands us to love one another as He has loved us, and then He sends the Holy Spirit inside of us to give us a new heart, to empower us for a life of love like Jesus so that we really do fulfill the Law, what the Law of God requires, that the righteous requirements of the Law are actually fulfilled in us as we become imitators of God and walk in the Spirit in the way of love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us.
We’re being changed (Don’t you see?) on the inside. We’re being made right. We’re being made new. By grace, through faith, in Christ by His Spirit, now we have A Heart of Righteousness, A Heart of Righteousness. And this is our third point.
I’m bringing this back full circle to the Sermon on the Mount. I want to show you how rhetorically brilliant Jesus is. He ties this sermon together masterfully. He says in 7, verse 12, which we’ve read, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Think with me. When was the last time you heard this phrase, “the Law and the Prophets” in the Sermon on the Mount? Where was it? Some of you are very astute. You’re like “Aha, Matthew 5:17!” You’re right. Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
So immediately after Jesus’ introduction, He begins His sermon by telling us that everything in the Law and the Prophets, He’s not here to abolish it, He’s here to fulfill it. And now at the end of His sermon, right before His conclusion that we’ll look at later, right before His conclusion, His final statement is, “This is the Law and the Prophets. Whatever you wish others would do to you, do it to them.”
So Jesus...Do you see it? He’s framed the whole sermon here. Everything is bookended by these statements. He says, “You want to know what fulfillment looks like? You want to know what the Law and Prophets fulfilled in total in My work and in My ministry [looks like]? It’s when people, My followers, follow the Golden Rule and live in love like Me. That’s what fulfillment looks like.
Remember Matthew 5:20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Scribes and Pharisees were trying really, really hard to be righteous. They were all about behavior modification and cleaning up their act, and Jesus says, “Look, you’re going to need a righteousness that goes way deeper than that, than that kind of sin-management lifestyle. You need a heart transformation that only I can give you, and if you come to Me, and believe in Me, and trust in Me, and follow Me, I will guide you into the abundant life of the kingdom of heaven, as you come under My rule now and finally step into the kingdom of heaven when it comes.
I will redeem you with My life. I will send My Spirit to indwell you from within, and I will teach you to walk by the Spirit in the way of love so that the righteous requirements of the law are fully met in you. Your righteousness will be right at home in the kingdom of heaven as you learn to live in love like Jesus.
Remember right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:43–48. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy (That’s the way of life). But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that (look at this) you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Like father, like son. Like father, like daughter. You must be perfect. God is love. God is love, and His children must be filled with love as well, just like the perfect Son of God, Jesus Himself.
The righteousness that is at home in the kingdom of heaven is a life of love like Jesus, a life of love like Jesus.
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says, “The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.”
Now we won’t get there until glory, and “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” as Jesus puts it. But every day, moment by moment, in Christ and by His Spirit, our Father is loving us into loveliness. Every day, every moment, in Christ, by His Spirit, our Father is loving us into loveliness.
This is what God is doing in your life. When you were unlovely He loved you with an everlasting love. In love, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to rescue you; in love Jesus went to the cross and laid down His life for you; In love, He sent His Holy Spirit to indwell you, to manifest the love of God and make it real to you, the Spirit crying out Abba, Father, reminding you of who you are; in love, the Spirit is conforming you to the image of Christ so that you might walk in love, as Christ loved you and gave Himself up for you. And you and I, friends, we love because He first loved us. He’s loving us into loveliness.
How are we ever to become people of virtue? How are we ever to live up to Jesus’ ethical standards? How are we ever to become righteous on the inside in a way that echoes into every part of our being? How are we ever to fulfill the law of Christ? In Christ, by His Spirit, our Father is loving us into loveliness. That’s how. That’s how.
Listen to these words from the apostle Paul in Colossians 3, verses 12 to 14: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Do you see the ethical lists? All the virtue lists? How does he end?) And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Jesus came and solved the great debate of how to bring together all the virtues, all the moral philosophy, all the great Law of God. Jesus did what no one else has ever been able to do. He brought it together in love, in love.
“A new commandment I give to you. Love one another; just as I have loved you, so you also are to love one another.”
Father, what makes the Gospel so beautiful is not its ethical standards. Anybody can tell us to try harder, to do better, to do more. Anyone can dish out good advice, but the Good News of the Gospel is that you have done everything to make us right with you. That Christ died in our place and for our sake, the righteous for the unrighteousness to bring us to God, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us, and we were helpless and incapable of honoring the standards of righteousness, you closed the gap in Jesus Christ, and He is alive. And then you give your Holy Spirit to dwell deep inside of us, to do what our hearts could never do by themselves to teach us the way of love, that when we surrender and yield, give ourselves away to the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we become people we were always meant to be, and we learn to live in love as Christ has loved us.
Father, take our lives, all of us. Change us. Conform us to the image of Christ. Teach us to love like Jesus. We pray this in His matchless name, Amen.